Emerging Trends in Health Care in 2020

Even before the coronavirus, technological innovations in healthcare have been changing the face of the industry. Now, more than ever, having strong and adaptable health care options to address different audiences is more important than ever. However, not all trends are related to technology. Sometimes, a trend is simply a new way of looking at treatment. For example, emerging supplements like Kratom, CBD oils and cannabis can significantly improve the conditions of millions of people. During a global epidemic like coronavirus, these trending treatments can save many lives as healthcare access becomes more difficult and self-isolation becomes mandatory. At the very least, alternative treatments can make millions of lives more bearable. The key factor in determining these top emerging health care trends will be shifts in consumer behavior and improvements in quality of life.

1. Virtual Reality

VR is a new computer technology that uses headsets to let wearers see, hear, and interact with a 360-degree simulation. Whether that’s the beach, a sports stadium, or the African safari. As long as the stimulation is available on the headset, the wearer can go there at the touch of a button.

Facilities like Stanford Children’s Health in Palo Alto and the Graham Center in Newark are already testing VR technology with tremendous success. At the Graham Center, cancer patients are using virtual reality systems during lengthy infusions. Administration of chemotherapy is a perfect setting to utilize VR as the process can take between 30 minutes to 10 hours depending on the treatment protocol, dosage, and administration method.

At Stanford Children’s Health, doctors used VR to practice the removal of a tumor from the brain of a 2-year-old boy.

These aren’t the only facilities interested in VR in a health care setting. The use of virtual reality is now employed in a variety of settings — from clinics to medical classrooms. A recent report estimated that the VR health care market will reach $7 billion by 2026. With so much hype around virtual reality in healthcare, its use will only continue to expand as we learn when and where it can be helpful

7 ways that VR can help improve health care

Easing Patient Anxiety

Hospitals have created a VR tour for patients before their first treatment so they can better understand the entire process. From a behind-the-scenes tour through the eventual operating room to visiting the pharmacy as specialists prepare their medication. With many patients now in isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, post-surgery anxiety is a major issue that VR can potentially alleviate to some extent.

Helping Mothers in Labor

Several hospitals in the U.S. now offer VR to women going through labor to reduce their pain. A 2019 study found that 57% of women believed VR eased their pain, 100% felt it eased their anxiety, and 100% would recommend it for other women in labor.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

70% of Americans will go through a traumatic event at some point in their life. Virtual reality may help soothe the fear and anxiety of PTSD. The trick is to associate the existing pain with something positive in the end rather than strictly trying to distract or escape from what is actually going on.

Pain Reduction

In 2019, the Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., initiated a pilot program which involved using VR headsets for children undergoing emergency procedures like removing stitches, sutures and foreign bodies. Some parents said their kids enjoyed the experience and needed less pain medication than usual.

Complex Surgery

Neurosurgeons at Stanford Children’s Health in Palo Alto recently used virtual reality to help them remove a dangerous brain tumor from the youngest patient to ever have such a procedure—a 2-year-old boy. VR allowed surgeons to turn an MRI and CT scan of the boy’s brain into a 3D model so the team could practice their surgery beforehand. With the help of VR, the doctors performed a successful procedure.

Patient Education and Experience

A pediatric cardiologist at Stanford Children’s Health used VR to help describe more than 20 complex heart diseases to employees, patients, and families.

Medical Education

VR images are assuring patients after procedures that the tumor or aneurysm is really gone, and help doctors with surgical preparation and education.


2. Kratom

Plants have been used for the treatment of medical conditions throughout much of human history, and such traditional medicine is still widely prevalent today. Unfortunately, due to the marketing of modern medicine and the low-cost of producing pharmaceutical drugs, most people rely on plant-derived synthetic drugs to treat their personal ailments. In fact, just last year, Americans spent approximately $400 billion on prescription drugs—roughly $1,200 per person—and this trend is rapidly increasing.

Kratom, in recent years, has grown in popularity as a miracle plant capable of producing many health benefits for the body including energy elevation, mood enhancement, and relaxation. To date, kratom is only capable of being grown in Southeast-Asia as the properties of their soil and climate allow the tree to grow healthily. It is a very difficult plant to grow as these trees take 15 years to mature and can grow as tall as 100 feet!

The story of kratom closely mirrors that of cannabis: major government pushback and strong user advocacy. In the US, over 94 million people have admitted using cannabis at least once, whereas in the kratom market upwards of 15 million people are reported users.

In 2016, the DEA tried to list kratom as a Scheduled I drug. This sparked unprecedented public support and backlash, with over 23,000 people signing a petition to support the usefulness of kratom for the self-treatment of various medical conditions including chronic pain. Since then, kratom has remained legal across most of the US. A few states, however, including Arkansas, Alabama, Indiana, Washington, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, have banned it. A full updated list is available here. 

Main Use Cases of Kratom:

  1. Energy-boosting – An anonymous online survey conducted in October 2016 by the American Kratom Association identified “increased energy” as one of the beneficial effects of kratom consumption.
  2. Relaxation – A 2017 literature review of various databases found that kratom produced feelings of relaxation for users
  3. Mood enhancing – One 2017 review of all studies conducted on kratom between 1960 and 2017 found that kratom enhances mood and relieves anxiety.
  4. Pain-relieving – In the aforementioned 2016 survey conducted by the American Kratom Association, self-treating pain was the number one reported use for kratom. Of the 8,049 respondents, 68% of them used kratom for pain conditions.
  5. Antiinflammation – A 2009 study by Shaik Mossadeq suggested that the extract of kratom reduces inflammation, improves vascular permeability enhances immunity, tissue repair, and healing processes.
  6. Reduced anxiety and euphoria – In the aforementioned 2017 literature review, users reported euphoria as a mental state produced by the consumption of kratom. Another 2018 review found that kratom enhances mood and relieves anxiety for some people


3. AI and Machine learning

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the most talked about technology since the cloud, right next to blockchain, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). It is the term describing machines (or computers) that mimic human cognitive functions, such as “learning” and “problem solving”. The idea is, once a machine successfully learns a cognitive function, it can operate error-free, 24 hours a day, and cheaper than human labor (in the long-run).

    Use cases of AI in a healthcare setting

    AI-assisted robotic surgery

    With artificial intelligence, robots can use data from past operations to perform future surgical procedures. A recent study involving 379 orthopedic patients found that procedures using AI-assisted robots had 5 times fewer complications compared to surgeons operating alone.

    Virtual nursing assistants

    Virtual nurses are available 24 hours a day. They can answer questions, monitor patients and even conduct health checks through voice and AI. Most importantly, virtual nurses don’t need to be in physical contact with humans. This last part could have been particularly useful during the recent coronavirus pandemic, keeping nurses safe while providing healthcare assistance to millions of people virtually.  

    AI-assisted medical diagnostics

    AI can also diagnose patients based on previous diagnostic examinations. An AI algorithm at Stanford University was able to detect skin cancers at the same accuracy level as regular dermatologists. UK Prime minister says AI can be used to predict early-stage cancer and prevent thousands of cancer-related deaths.

    Workflow and admin tasks

    machines can assist doctors, nurses and administrative workers save time on tasks such as scheduling, prescribing medications and writing chart notes. One Cleveland clinic used AI to save hours of the physicians’ time by analyzing thousands of medical papers using natural language processing.

    Image analysis

    an MIT research team developed a machine-learning algorithm that analyzes 3D scans up to 1,000 times faster than with current technology. This near-instant assessment can be critical for surgeons in the operating room.